April 6, 2014 Subject:
The Sheltering Desert
The Sheltering Desert (1957) is a fantastic African travel/adventure book, I loved every aspect of it. Two German scientists escape into the Namib Desert to avoid incarceration by the British at the start of World War II. They survive like Robinson Crusoe for 2.5 years in a landscape of harsh beauty and danger. Everything they need they learn how to make from scratch. Like Bushmen they revert to a primitive but naturally ideal state as each day is a struggle for water, food, shelter and safety from other predators. At night, from the safety of a cave eating the days kill, they philosophize on big questions such as the merits of civilization versus hunter gatherers, the nature of evolution, all the while listening to the progress of WWII on a radio. They become highly attuned to the thoughts, emotions and habits of animals around them. For the reader armed with a map of Namibia, it's a total immersion into a place where some of the oldest humans have existed, the next best thing to going there in person, or returning in spirit. For some reason the book is well known in Namibia, most modern travel guide books mention it, but it's completely unknown outside that context. I would put it nearly on-par with contemporary classics like Kon-Tiki and Seven Years in Tibet as a work of outdoor literature, for its mix of adventure, danger, natural description and exotic locale.
The 1958 English translation appears to be in the public domain, there is no copyright renewal registration for it. Internet Archive has a copy of The Sheltering Desert online free in various formats. A German publisher has it in print, and there are some (rather exspensive) used copies on the market. There was also a film version made in 1992, but does not appear to have made it to VHS/DVD (if you have a copy, pls contact me!). June 2010.